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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Decomposition of leaf litter mixtures across biomes: The role of litter identity, diversity and soil fauna

Zhou, Shixing; Butenschoen, Olaf; Barantal, Sandra; Handa, Ira Tanya; Makkonen, Marika; Vos, Veronique; Aerts, Rien; Berg, Matty P.; McKie, Brendan; Van Ruijven, Jasper; Hattenschwiler, Stephan; Scheu, Stefan


At broad spatial scales, the factors regulating litter decomposition remain ambiguous, with the understanding of these factors largely based on studies investigating site-specific single litter species, whereas studies using multi litter species mixtures across sites are rare. We exposed in microcosms containing single species and all possible mixtures of four leaf litter species differing widely in initial chemical and physical characteristics from a temperate forest to the climatic conditions of four different forests across the Northern Hemisphere for 1 year. Calcium, magnesium and condensed tannins predicted litter mass loss of single litter species and mixtures across forest types and biomes, regardless of species richness and microarthropod presence. However, relative mixture effects differed among forest types and varied with the access to the litter by microarthropods. Access to the microcosms by microarthropods modified the decomposition of individual litter species within mixtures, which differed among forest types independent of litter species richness and composition of litter mixtures. However, soil microarthropods generally only little affected litter decomposition. Synthesis. We conclude that litter identity is the dominant driver of decomposition across different forest types and the non-additive litter mixture effects vary among biomes despite identical leaf litter chemistry. These results suggest that across large spatial scales the environmental context of decomposing litter mixtures, including microarthropod communities, determine the decomposition of litter mixtures besides strong litter trait-based effects.


litter diversity; litter identity; litter traits; mass loss; microarthropods; plant-soil (below-ground) interactions; soil fauna

Published in

Journal of Ecology
2020, volume: 108, number: 6, pages: 2283-2297
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Zhou, Shixing
Sichuan Agricultural University
Butenschoen, Olaf
University of Göttingen
Barantal, Sandra
University of Montpellier
Handa, Ira Tanya
University of Quebec Montreal (UQAM)
Makkonen, Marika
VU University Amsterdam
Vos, Veronique
Wageningen University and Research
Aerts, Rien
VU University Amsterdam
Berg, Matty P.
University of Groningen
Umeå University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Van Ruijven, Jasper
Wageningen University and Research
Hättenschwiler, Stephan
Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionelle & Evolutive (CEFE/CNRS)
Scheu, Stefan
University of Gottingen

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